Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Patina de Persicis -- A Dish of Peaches (Roman Empire)

I'm enjoying the book The Roman Cookery of Apicius by John Edwards.  It has a variety of recipes "translated and adapted for the Modern Kitchen" and that suits me just fine.  Mr. Edwards has made the adaptations very accessible for the 21st century, including his version of "fish-pickle", which is made from canned tuna or salmon (as opposed to the liquamen mentioned in this post).

ISBN 0-88179-008-7
Today I played with two different recipes to make dinner:  Patina de Persicis (A Dish of Peaches) and Vitellina Fricta (Fried Veal Steak).  I am presenting the results of the peaches recipe today and will follow up with the Vitellina next month.

The Roman version is simple (page 84):

Take peaches which have a firm texture and wash them.  Cut them into pieces and stew.  Put the peaches into a dish and sprinkle a few drops of olive oil over them.  Season with cumin, and serve.

Mr. Edward's version is also simple (page 83):

Take early peaches, wash, cut them in quarters, and remove pits.  Steam in water until soft.  Drain, reserve liquid, and put them in a cooking pot with a little of the peach liquid, a few drops of olive oil, and cumin to taste.  Simmer gently for a few minutes and serve hot.

It is not peach season right now but I really wanted to try this recipe.  So my version is simpler still:

Peaches Cooked with Cumin

Two cans sliced peaches, in light syrup or juice
Olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin

That's all!
Drain peaches; reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Place the peaches into a small pan.

Mix the reserved liquid, four drops olive oil, and cumin in a small bowl.

Pour over peaches and stir gently so as not to break up the pieces.

They should not be swimming in liquid.
Over medium heat, bring peaches and liquid to a gentle simmer.  Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 5 - 10 minutes, until steaming hot all the way through.  Stir occasionally.

Remove peaches with a slotted spoon.  Add just a little of the liquid to the peaches in their serving dish.  Serve immediately.

Served with even less liquid in which they were cooked.
My Notes

This was my version of the recipe, so what you see above are my notes.  My canned peaches were in light syrup, so I worried that they might be too sweet.   I served the peaches with a slotted spoon so the liquid wouldn't spill all over the plate.  I served it as a side dish to the meat main course.

That dark stuff is the Vitellina
The Verdict

This was a big hit!  The cumin shifts the flavor to savory rather than sweet and that made it an excellent side dish.  One teaspoon of cumin was very good -- it was subtle and yet still noticeable and just a little spicy on the tongue.  My guest tasters and I (three in total) ate them all.  For more than three people, you will need to double the recipe, at least.

Success!  We all wanted more and I would make it again without hesitation.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Vintage California Cuisine -- Chicken in Almond Sauce

I was in the mood to try something different.  World War Two recipes came to mind but I didn't find any that peaked my interest.  Then I rediscovered a book I had purchased a few years ago after discussing California cuisine with a history nut.

ISBN 978-0-9795510-0-0
This fun little book dabbles in a variety of sources:  "300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State."  Its emphasis is to show how early California cuisine was influenced by many cultures, including New England, the South, Paris, the Quakers, the vegetarian movement in the late 1800s, and of course, Mexico.  All the books cited were published between 1872 and 1915.

The recipe that caught my interest was called "Chicken in Almond Sauce."  (page 95).  It was taken from El Cocinero Español, published in 1889 and written by Encarnación Pineda.  More on this later.

I was intrigued by the ingredient list.  Along with chicken and chorizo sausage it called for chiles, almonds, raisins, and pineapple.  I really wanted to know how those flavors combined!

Chicken in Almond Sauce

Put the stock used for cooking the hen in a saucepan.  Add sliced tomatoes, garlic, slices of peeled and cored pineapple, chorizo sausage, a tablespoon of vinegar, raisins, almonds, small pickled chile peppers, salt, pepper, and the de-boned pieces of hen.

My Notes

I cooked a 4 1/2 pound hen by simmering it gently in a pan of water.  Then I cooled both the bird and the stock, then strained the stock to remove sediment.  The remaining stock was approximately 3 quarts in volume.

To that stock I added my estimation of how much of each ingredient would make for a tasty, balanced dish.

2 tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
4 ounce can diced mild green chiles
12 ounces beef chorizo sausage
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 ounces de-boned chicken, sliced

And the stock.
This filled my six quart pan so I brought it to a slow simmer and left it, covered, for about an hour.

The Result

My impression was that this was supposed to have a stew-like consistency.  This was not even close.  It was soup and when I tasted the broth it was weakly flavored.  The ground almonds were an unpleasant interruption in the liquid.

A beautiful color!
Should I serve it as a soup?  I didn't want to so I used a slotted spoon to scoop out the ingredients and then added just a little broth to each bowl.

I love the puffy raisins.
The stew was garnished with some shredded Cheddar cheese and served with some quality tortilla chips on the side.

The chunks of chicken are appealing.
The Verdict

It was good!  Flavorful and the surprise bits of sweetness from the pineapple and raisins was pleasant.  The chicken held together in chunks which helped the dish feel like the chicken was the focus and the vegetables were the support team.  We all liked it and had seconds.  Success!

How I Would Change My Redaction

I think that I should have placed all the ingredients in the pan and then added enough broth to make it moist enough to cook.  If convenient, you could probably put the whole thing in a casserole dish and bake it slowly to blend the flavors.

Two tomatoes was right for the amount of chicken used.  I would use two cloves of garlic, though, for more flavor and 8 ounces of the chiles as I couldn't tell they were there except visually.  One cup each of pineapple and raisins was right, too, and I think chunked pineapple would also work well.

The chorizo was put in in chunks but the long, wet cooking caused it to dissolve into little bits.  Perhaps using less liquid would keep it in larger pieces.  It did flavor the mixture nicely and color it red.  It made the dish more fatty than I like but that wasn't really a problem.

I used ground almonds because I thought they would make the dish creamy, like they do when making almond milk.  They might have if less broth was used or more ground almonds.  I don't think big almond chunks in the stew would have worked at all.  Sliced almonds may have been a good garnish.

More on Encarnación Pineda

I also have a copy of Encarnación's Kitchen, by Dan Strehl, which contains a selection of recipes translated from her book.  After cooking the Vintage California Cuisine's recipe, I looked up "Chicken in Almond Sauce" to see his version:

Aves o carnes en almondrado
(Birds or meat in almond sauce)

Grind together clean roasted almonds, a slice of toasted bread, two hard-cooked egg yolks, parsley, onions, and finely chopped garlic (understand that you should only use two or three cloves at a time).

Parboil the mixture, then add the broth the poultry or meats were cooked in. 

Then season it with cloves, cinnamon, and capers, and add wine, vinegar, and a spoonful of sugar.

Let the sauce thicken before placing the cooked poultry or meats in it.

Wow, this is very different from the version I worked with!  I'm not sure how the translations could differ so much.  I wish I could read Spanish so I could see Ms. Pineda's version myself.

Mr. Strehl's book has ISBN 0-520-23651-3.  From the comments about it, I suspect his version is more authentic than the Vintage California Cuisine's version.  But it was still good!  To be fair, Ms. Pinedo might have supplied several recipes with similar titles.  This often happens in older cookbooks.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Egg Preservation -- Month One

It has been one month since I put two dozen eggs into liquid storage.  It is time to check them out!

For the original procedure, look at the post "Preserving an Eggciting New Year."

My goal is to look at two eggs a month to see how the preservation method is working.  I wanted to use one egg that was coated with Vaseline and one that was not.

The storage container was undisturbed for the entire month.  When I took the lid off, I noticed a "crust" had formed on the surface:

I poked it with my finger and sure enough, the crust broke up like ice on a pond.

I pulled out the first two eggs I could find that met the requirements.  The first was without Vaseline so I had to touch a few others before I found one marked with the "V".  I was surprised to see the uncoated egg had split open while in storage.  It looked like the white had leaked out in a few places but had firmed up.

The split egg felt a little heavier.

For comparison, I placed a fresh egg right out the refrigerator next to the stored eggs.

Fresh egg on the left
Then I heated a cast iron skillet, coated it with olive oil, and started breaking in the eggs.  **I should have considered the split egg better.** While the fresh and the V egg broke open and emptied into the skillet just the same, the split egg almost exploded when I tapped the shell against the pan.  The contents looked scrambled and were very wet.  I wish I had thought to put it into a separate pan.

Fresh on left, V on right, split all over!
After taking the picture, I took the pan over to the sink and poured out the liquid.  That left the fresh and the V egg to cook.  I was impressed that the V egg had a beautiful yellow yolk and the white seemed to have the same texture as the fresh.  It honestly looked more appealing than the fresh because the yolk was so large and pretty.

When they were done cooking, I and a guest taster tried bites of each.  We could not taste a difference between them.  The guest could not taste a difference between them and what he was used to when eating fried eggs.  We couldn't see a difference between them, either.

I think I could taste the presence of the calcium hydroxide on both eggs.  I suspect it was from the split egg washing its contents all over the other eggs.  Now I know to avoid using split eggs!

The Verdict

Success!  The V egg was indistinguishable from the fresh egg in look and flavor after one month in a calcium hydroxide solution, in a ceramic container, in a cool room in the house.  What a boon to people who have producing hens and want to spread out the bounty over time!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Medley Pie -- Oh My!

You have to look at this website if you are a foodie, an historical cook, or an Anglophile.  Or just interested in interesting recipes!

It is The Foods of England and has an amazing selection of recipes.  Here is an excerpt from their home page:

 The Foods of England

"Cooking in England, when well done, is superior to that of any other country in the world."
Louis Eustache Ude 'Le Cuisinier français'


*Yes 'receipts' (
'recipe' is French). On the way to restoring the glory of English food - finding the story behind every single traditional dish ... 3,355 dishes listed - more than 2,500 with the original receipt - 60 Major cookbooks online totalling more than 4 million words - Food Events for every month of the year, search the lot by Counties and ... 

Honestly, you'll be amazed what this has stirred up.

When I saw this, I was excited to see what they had to offer!

My daughter was in town and she wanted to try a decorative top crust for a pie, so I perused the site and found this temptation.

Screenshot from
Medley Pie (Derbyshire Version)

10 oz plain flour
5 oz dripping
pinch of ginger or cloves
8 oz back bacon
1 large cooking apple
3 medium onions, sliced
1 teaspoon sage
egg yolk for glaze
salt and pepper

I used only two onions.
Make the pastry with the flour and salt by rubbing in the dripping and mixing to a dough with cold water, roll out 1/4 in thick and line a deep pie dish with two-thirds of the pastry.

Peel, core and slice the apples, and cut the rind from the bacon.  Arrange the bacon, apple and onion in layers in that order.  Sprinkle each layer with sage and seasoning.  Add 150 ml (1/4 pint) water or stock.  Add the cover and seal well.  Cut slits in the top and decorate.  Glaze with beaten egg.

Bake in the centre of a preheated oven at 180C, 350F, Gas 4 for 40 minutes, then reduce to 150C, 300F, Gas 2 for a further 40 minutes.

If the pie begins to brown, cover with foil or greaseproof paper to prevent burning.

My Notes

We used a double batch of my daughter's favorite pie crust recipe instead (Look here, about half way down the post).  My deep dish pan needed 2/3 of that amount to be covered well without the crust being too thin.

I weighed out the bacon and actually used more like 12 ounces since eight looked, well, like too little.  Then I cut each slice in half.   I also used only two onions once they were thinly sliced.

You can see in the picture that I used fresh sage, so I doubled the amount called for.

Here is the first layer.  I used a pinch of cloves on each layer and was generous with the pepper.

Three layers filled the pan.  I did not even use all of the two onions.  Also I used chicken broth last.

My daughter had her fun with the top crust!

The egg yolk wash made the top bright yellow.

Fresh out of the oven!  The scent while baking was marvelous.  We were all hanging around enjoying it.

The Verdict

I served it with a tossed green salad, keeping the menu simple so we could focus on the flavors of the pie.

We cut thick slices.  I appreciated the layers and seeing all the goodies inside.

There were four of us at this meal.  Everyone liked what they ate!

I think I would increase the spices more and my mouth wanted more of the apple and less of the onion.  I think having similar amounts of each would be better.

We all agreed that the bacon would be better cut up into smaller pieces.  It would make it easier to serve each piece and easier to eat each bite.  But the taste was excellent!

My daughter believes that she would caramelize the onions before putting them into the pie, just to get a deeper flavor from them.

I'm not sure the 1/4 pint of liquid is necessary.  The vegetables provide moisture and the bacon enough fat to keep it from drying out.  If I were to add anything, I would put it in when the pie came out of the oven, like I did for the Elizabethan pie I made here.

Considering that nearly the entire pie was eaten at that one meal, I would call it a success!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Preserving an Eggciting New Year

I am in amazement over the idea that this post begins my sixth year of food blogging.  When I first started I wasn't sure I would be posting consistently at all.  Now I have 129 posts and over 34,000 page views! I've lagged in posting a few times when life got really busy but I have always looked forward to picking out a recipe and giving it a try.

One of the joys of this blog is that I am not restricted to any time period, food stuff, or culture.  I can pick and choose based on what I feel like doing, what looks intriguing, or any other criteria I want to apply.  The joy and freedom is very attractive.

For today's post I tapped into a video posted by Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc.  It is a survey called "The Top 6 Historical Egg Preservation Techniques" where they tried these techniques and reported the success rates of fresh eggs eight months after they were stored without refrigeration.  I was intrigued by the most successful method of storing eggs in lime water.  I have the perfect ceramic container and eggs are reasonable in price so why not?

I researched the web for instructions from any time period and found this document published in 1935 by the US Department of Agriculture:  "Home Method of Preserving Eggs."  They list two methods, one that coats the eggs in water glass (sodium silicate) and the other uses lime water.

Here is a clip from the document:

I used the directions as specified but scaled down to a usable quantity for my needs.

Preserving in Lime Water

Scald 2 pounds of unslaked or hydrated lime in a little water and then stir this into 5 gallons of water that has previously been boiled and allowed to cool.  Allow the mixture to stand until the lime settles and pour off the clear liquid.  Place clean, fresh eggs in a clean earthenware crock or jar and pout in the clear lime water until the eggs are covered.  At least 2 inches of the solution should cover the top layer of eggs.

Two dozen eggs and some Cal.
My Notes

Before purchasing the eggs I had to acquire the hydrated or slaked lime.  Here was the challenge!  I saw some at a building supply store but it came in granules and I wasn't convinced it was pure enough for food use.  It was in the gardening section.

I looked online and saw that another name for it is "pickling lime" because it is used to make pickles crunchy.  I could buy it in one pound bags for as low as about $3 but the shipping was often $10 or more.  I wasn't sure how much I would need but I really didn't want to have a great quantity sitting around after the experiment.

So I decided to check out some local grocery stores.  My daughter had this brilliant idea:  Check out a store that specializes in Mexican/Hispanic foods since pickling lime is also used to make masa.  That was the key!  At the tortilleria they had huge bags of "Mississippi Lime" and were willing to sell me a pound of it.  At the cost of 85 cents per pound.  This was amazing!  I knew it was food grade and I learned the Spanish name for it was "Cal", as in "Calcium hydroxide."  It is a pure white powder, very finely ground.

I read a wide variety of websites that talk about using lime water to preserve eggs.  Most suggest you use freshly laid, wiped-but-not-washed eggs because they come with their own natural sealant.  This wasn't going to happen with store-bought eggs but someone suggested that Vaseline might be a good replacement.

We decided to preserve two dozen eggs.  One dozen used just as we got them from the store.  One dozen marked with a "V" and lightly coated in Vaseline.  It is a petroleum jelly that is safe for human consumption and, being non-organic, will not go rancid like butter or other animal or plant fats.

I guessed that I would need about 1 gallon of lime water to cover the eggs, so I adjusted the 5 gallons to 2 pounds ratio down to 160 ounces water and 8 ounces of lime.  The day before I wanted to preserve the eggs I measured out the water (it nearly filled my 6 quart kettle), brought it to a rolling boil, then turned off the heat and allowed it to cool over night (it was covered the whole time).

Then I weighed out the lime and stirred it a little at a time into the water.  I forgot to scald it first!  The powder was not inclined to dissolve into the water immediately but constant stirring and adding it slowly helped.  The water went from clear to cloudy to opaque and very milk-like in its look.  Once all the lime was in I let the container sit until the cloudy part settled.

The eggs were marked and rubbed with the Vaseline and then placed into my ceramic crock.

We took ladles and carefully scooped out the clear liquid.  I noticed a thick layer of white powder at the bottom of the kettle.  It was good that I mixed up more than I needed since I had to leave some of the liquid behind with the white layer.

See the white layer in the kettle?
I carefully poured the lime water over the eggs until the crock was as full as it could be.  Yes, the level was about two inches above the eggs.  I put the lid on and put a note on it with the date and contents.

Ready to sit.
The left-over lime water went into the compost pile.

The Verdict

The method for making the lime water was certainly easy to do.  I would call the process a success.  As to its actual ability to preserve the eggs...

My plan is to check two eggs (one Vaseline, one not) a month to see how they are doing.  Do they smell right?  Are they firm enough to use?  If I use them, do they taste right?  This gives me a little side post to add every month.

Some websites mentioned that the lime water will eventually start eroding the egg shells.  In fact, I found an old patent application that suggested putting crushed shells into the water so they would erode first, though I am not sure how that would guarantee the crushed shells would have priority over the whole shells.  Perhaps the Vaseline will stop that.

You can see in the document that "Fresh, clean eggs, properly preserved, can be used satisfactorily for all purposes in cooking and for table."  It says the eggs should be good for 6 to 9 months!  The Jas. Townsend video had a 100% success rate after 8 months (no bad eggs).  I hope this works for me.  Stay tuned for monthly updates.

The USDA document mentions that the best results are using lime water without added salt.  This is because some records mention putting in salt to help preserve the eggs.  I have the feeling that the salt does not help keep the eggs in "newly laid" condition by pulling water from the white.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Freezer Cheese Ball -- A Most Favorite

I reserve the last post of the year for a recipe (old or not) that I consider to be one of my favorites.  This one, a cheese ball that can be made in advance and stored in the freezer, is one I have been using since 1989.  Nearly 30 years!  My notes don't say where I originally got the recipe.  It is hand-written in the little green book that I started filling out in 1986, with just my favorite recipes.  (I am pretty sure my daughter covets it!)

Pretty and good to eat.
This cheese ball is simple and easy to make and tasty, too.  The important part is to have the ingredients at room temperature so they are soft.

Freezer Cheese Ball

8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup butter
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans (almonds are good, too)

And your choice of nuts, when needed.
Allow cheeses and butter to stand at room temperature until soft.

Put cheeses and butter into the food processor or a mixer.  Mix until blended.

Add garlic and beat until creamy.

Cover and chill about 3 hours or until firm enough to shape into balls.  Divide into halves and shape each half into a smooth ball about 3 inches in diameter.

Wrap air tight in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

When needed, allow to come to room temperature (about 3 to 4 hours).  Roll in 1/3 cup of nuts.  

Serve with crackers.

My Notes


The size of the garlic clove you choose is important.  Remember that mincing or pressing it (and running it through the food processor!) makes the garlic flavor more intense, so you need to decide how much you want the garlic to stand out.  If you prefer to taste more of the cheeses, pick a small clove.

This is creamy.
I don't always wait "3 hours or until firm enough to shape into balls."  Sometimes I just put half of the cheese mixture onto plastic wrap and use the wrap to help shape it.  It helps to use two spoons to scoop the mixture, so one spoon can be pushed against the other to remove the soft cheese.

Shaped but not yet chilled.
It is important to let the ball sit for a few hours at least before serving so the flavors blend and develop.  I like it better the next day.

As mentioned in the ingredients list, pecans and almonds are both good to use.  Sometimes I even use walnuts.  You can use toasted or raw nuts.  Just make sure the pieces are not too big!

I like to serve it with a little dried parsley sprinkled on the top.  It just looks prettier to my eye.

Wrapped and ready to travel.  
The Verdict

Recently I made a batch for a work potluck and it was well-received.  Of course that was just one ball.  I contemplated freezing the other but we had a dinner that needed a good cheese ball and that was just right.

This recipe is a favorite for a reason.  It is tasty!  It is easy to make!  And you can make it ahead of time to avoid the holiday cooking rush!

It has always been a success.  I haven't tried variations on the cheese flavors because it is so good as it is.  I get the sharpest cheddar I can find.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

EASY Chocolate Pots de Crème

Chocolate chips.  Lovely little morsels of semi-sweet chocolate that are so easy to eat by themselves and make amazing fudge and cookies.  But, it turns out, they are also very versatile in other recipes.  This book, In The Chips, was published in 1985 by Peggy Mellody and Linda Rosenbloom.

ISBN: 0-89256-288-9
It has sections on breads, cakes, candy, cookies, desserts like cheesecake and tortes, pies, beverages, and a special section just for Christmas goodies.

In that dessert section I found a recipe called "Easy Chocolate Pots de Crème" which was exactly what I needed for a quick yet scrumptious dessert for a special dinner guest.  It also fit the description of what I needed for a later-in-the-week dessert I was to take to dinner at a friend's house:  "a small chocolate something."

What was appealing about the recipe was the simplicity, that it could be made in advance, and that it was set up with small, individual servings.

Easy Chocolate Pots de Crème  (pg 168)

1 1/4 cups light cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons brandy

Scald light cream in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  Meanwhile, combine the chocolate chips, egg yolks, and brandy in a blender.  Pour scalded cream into blender, and blend until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Pour mixture into crème pots or demitasse cups.  Cover and chill for at least three hours.

Note:  Dark rum or liqueurs may be substituted for brandy if desired.

My Notes

I used half-and-half for my light cream.  For the first time I made it, I used the three tablespoons of brandy.  The second time I used three tablespoons of brandy-flavoring as the friend does not use alcohol at all.

I wasn't exactly sure what the requirements were for scalding so a quick trip to The Joy of Cooking helped me out.  The original idea for scalding was to kill off germs but we don't need that with pasteurized milk products.  In this case it was to get the cream hot enough to melt the chocolate and lightly cook the yolks.  So the J of C book said to heat it until small bubbles appeared around the edges of the pan.

Bubbles from pouring in the cream

Bubbles at scalding
So while the cream was getting scalded, I put the other ingredients into the blender.

Once I added the cream, I clamped on the blender's lid and started the blender.  Big mistake!  The hot liquid quickly expanded and, despite my best (desperate) efforts, lifted the lid and squirted out.  My face, glasses, hair, shirt, and parts of the kitchen were drenched with warm, sticky chocolate mix!  Not hot enough to burn but very startling.

As it turned out the splash was more droplets than fountain, so I didn't lose too much to make the dessert.  But I did have to wash up afterwards and change my shirt.

The second time I made it I put the mixture into my food processor.  This time only a little liquid squirted out and, fortunately, not on me.

In both cases I blended until the mixture was evenly brown throughout.  This made it foamy but not in a bad way.

Then I poured the mixture into six individual glass bowls, covered them each with plastic wrap, and put them into the refrigerator.

In both attempts the pots de crème was firmly set up after about three hours of chilling.  I served it with a dab of whipped cream on top.

The Verdict

I loved it.  The foam firmed up on top and underneath was a very pudding-like chocolate dessert.  The whipped cream was a good touch although I am a big fan of lots of whipped cream with pudding.

The texture was smooth, the flavor was chocolate without being very sweet (notice:  no extra sugar added!), and I liked the brandy undertones.  I even liked the brandy flavoring undertones.

Guest taster reactions were mixed.  Everyone ate it but I did not sense that many were impressed or excited about it.  It was a small portion, as intended, so maybe it would have been better to serve some thin vanilla cookies with it.

So I would call it a success but maybe only to pudding fans.  It certainly was light while being rich enough to satisfy chocolate cravings.

I would make it again but maybe just for myself!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pear Patina -- A Roman Empire Dessert Custard

I have acquired several Roman Empire recipe books over the years but the one I am attracted to the most was purchased in England and written by Sally Grainger.

ISBN 1-903018-44-7
I first wrote about it here, where I tried her recipe for modern day liquamen, a fish sauce used in many, many Roman dishes.  I stand behind my previous statement that the recipes she redacts are reasonable for the modern kitchen and the modern palate.  This recipe, a "fruit-based egg custard flavored with cumin" made me doubt that just a little, although her comments assured me that this "has been one of my more popular dishes at dinner parties and at reenactment demonstrations".

You may wonder why I doubted.  The answer is
the addition of fish sauce to a dessert always causes consternation until it is tasted.  Anyone who saw the television series What the Romans did for us with Adam Hart-Davies may possibly remember it was called a 'fishy custard.'  They gave it this name because they couldn't get past the fish sauce and see how delicious the other ingredients (honey, raisin wine) could be.
So I put my trust in Ms. Grainger and went ahead with the patina.

Pear patina, Apicius 4, 2, 35

1 1/2 lb Conference pears
200 ml red wine
50 ml passum  (see my notes, below)
2 tbsp clear honey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 - 2 tbsp fish sauce
4 eggs
1 tsp cumin
generous freshly ground black pepper

Fish sauce on the right
Peel and core the pears and chop them roughly.  Cook them till soft in the wine and passum.  Pass the whole mixture through a sieve or process it until smooth.  Add the honey, olive oil, fish sauce and 4 eggs and beat smooth again.  Dry-roast the cumin and grind to a fine powder.  Add it to the custard, then season with black pepper.  Pour into a greased casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until it sets, in a moderate oven (375 degrees F, 190 degrees C, mark 5).  Serve warm with a final sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

My Notes

I did not have passum, which she describes as
a dessert or raisin wine made with grapes that were either allowed to shrivel on the vine or dried on rush mats.  More sweet must, from other grapes that had not been dried, was used to aid the pressing of the fruit. ... It is not a process we can duplicate but there are modern varieties of sweet wine that correspond to this. ... Any very sweet dessert wine such as a heavy muscat or a heavier Sauternes will also do.  Passum could either be dark or pale as long as it has that raisin flavour.
I had looked around for something like that but wasn't certain that I was getting the right type.  My flash of insight was to use a sweet Chardonnay (but not too sweet; I knew my dinner guests!) and to add dried raisins to simmer with the pears.

My latest visit to the local farmers market provided me with some very bumpy but lovely Bartlett pears. I used two (not both pictured) to get to 1 1/2 pounds.

The fish sauce was my latest rendition of reduced grape juice and dark fish sauce in a 1-to-2 ratio.  Yes, it tasted fishy on its own but I trusted the recipe and even used two full tablespoons.

The soft pears, raisins, and wine mix were pureed in my blender.  They were still hot from the cooking so I worried a bit about putting in the eggs and having them cooked right there.  However I didn't waste any time getting the eggs, honey, olive oil, and fish sauce put into the blender and processing the mixture until smooth.

I'm very glad I roasted the cumin seeds and ground them.  They smelled good.

A word of caution:  my blender jar holds five cups and it was very full.  I put the lid on and held it tight while processing the whole mix.  If I hadn't, there would have been patina mix all over the kitchen!   For the cumin and pepper, I mostly stirred it with a spoon and then lightly tapped the button to complete the mixing.  I probably should have put it into my food processor instead.

Too full!  Hang on tight!
I used a large casserole dish so the resulting patina was thin.

A pretty pink puddle
The custard was set after the recommended 20 minutes.  I let it cool a little while we ate dinner.

The surface looks almost bread-like
The Verdict

I served small pieces to my three guest tasters because it was so different.  Everyone liked it, including the person who does not normally eat desserts.

Visually it was pink (from the red wine) and lightly bumpy in texture, and it smelled spicy and sweet.

Looks like a pink brownie.
Each bite was a complex taste experience.  The cumin and pepper were there and needed to be there but did not announce themselves as distinct flavors.  Just a lovely spicy note.  I could taste the honey very clearly but my guest tasters didn't without thinking about it.  The pear flavor was dominant for me and I was glad.  The custard part came across as the right base to present the other flavors and stayed in the background.  No, none of us tasted anything fishy.  Just very, very good.

Fruity, spicy, creamy (with the crunch that pears bring), with just the right amount of umami to make the flavor deep.  I loved it!

One guest thought I should have used a smaller casserole dish, to make the patina thicker.  I agree although the thin version was certainly lovely.

Another guest told me he did not like the texture.  He does not like creamy foods much (like ice cream, and yet we are still friends) but prefers the creamy to have chewy or crunchy with it.  So we discussed options and agreed that a topping of chopped, toasted almonds would have been a stellar addition.  I would serve a bowl of the nuts on the side to allow my guests to choose.

There were leftovers, which I tried rewarmed -- very good, almost better than the first time -- and cold, which was also lovely.  Sometimes I put pepper on top and sometimes not.  Still very excellent.

Yes, success.  I would do it again.  An intriguing flavor mix with just enough fruity pear flavor to make it seem like a dessert.